Brought together by the blues
On paper, a tour featuring Cyndi Lauper and Dr. John sounds like the set-up for an offbeat, odd-couple reality show: “She’s the kooky New York songstress with the powerful pipes who had a string of hits in the ’80s like ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ and ‘Time After Time’ and garnered acclaim in roles on TV, film, and Broadway; he’s the funky New Orleans keyboard legend who’s played on hundreds of records with everyone from Van Morrison to Aretha Franklin and Bob Seger and was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How will these two get along?’’
Just fine, it turns out. The pair behind the “From Memphis to Mardi Gras’’ trek, (which comes to the House of Blues on Sunday) form a charming mutual admiration society and share a deep love of the blues, which Lauper explored on her most recent album “Memphis Blues.’’ They’ll even share the stage during Dr. John’s set to perform “Wang Dang Doodle.’’
We chatted with Lauper, 58, and the man also known as Mac Rebennack, 70, earlier this week in a conversation that zig-zagged endearingly from his down-home, free-range New Orleans drawl to her energetic, giggle-interjecting Noo Yawk squawk.
Q. How has the tour been going?
Dr. John: Everything has been slammin’.
Lauper: Yeah, it’s pretty extraordinary to be able to do a show like this and having people like Dr. John and the wonderful musicians he’s playing with and my band with [legendary harmonica player] Charlie Musselwhite and part of the Hi [Records] rhythm section. It’s been really great. I feel very lucky.
Q. Where did you get the inspiration for the tour?
Lauper: I wanted to do a tour that would be real Americana, so I said “Well who’s out?’’ And they said Dr. John. So when they contacted him he liked the idea and here we are.
Q. Cyndi, did you have favorites of Dr. John’s stuff?
Lauper: There was always “Right Place Wrong Time,’’ I heard that when I was a kid. But the stuff he did with Rickie Lee Jones - he also did a track with one of my friends Angela McCluskey - he is an American classic. And what he puts into a song has so much spice, it makes it really thrilling to listen to every night. And he’s a wonderful, wonderful keyboardist. For me, when I was starting, Dr. John used to have background singers in the ’70s, and of course he played with a lot of different people, and I had always wanted to be a really good background singer, but I wound up being a lead singer. That’s how it goes. (Laughs).
Q. Is there a room in the band now for a background singer, Dr. John?
Lauper: (Laughs.) Yeah, for a background singer?
Dr. John: Hey, if I could afford it, I would I do it.
Q. What was your first reaction when you heard that Cyndi was making a blues album?
Dr. John: I thought that was a hip idea. You know what, there was a song she did a long time ago and even though it wasn’t a straight up blues, it was a song called “Time After Time,’’ it was very akin to bluesy structure. It was covered by Miles Davis and a lot of people, that in and of itself showed that she had the blues roots thing.
Lauper: Awww. I was fighting them to just write so when I finally got to write that song and it did get covered like that, it was a great nod.
Q. You’ve played with so many people, Dr. John. What draws you to collaborations?
Dr. John: I’ve been a studio musician for 56 years of my life. You know what? I still like to do records and I don’t like to just do my records, I like to do a lot of people’s records.
Q. He’s been making records almost as long as you’ve been alive, Cyndi. Is that inspirational?
Lauper: When you enter into becoming a musician, it’s a lifelong journey. It continues because music propels you into places and opens your mind up to all kinds of things, and so this is a journey, and it’s a craft and something that gives you life. This blues thing, this is where the masters are, the people who have been doing it forever. And it’s an honor to be on a bill with you, Dr. John, and to play with musicians whose skill and spirit is so big.
This interview was edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.